SOM's 3D-printed shelter (left) and the companion 3D-printed car developed by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Jason Richards SOM's 3D-printed shelter (left) and the companion 3D-printed car developed by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The quest continues to develop a 3D-printed enclosure that can be reproduced on-demand. The latest development comes from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), which today debuted a 3D-printed shelter designed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge (Tenn.) National Laboratory (ORNL), as well as Maryville, Tenn.-based housing manufacturer Clayton Homes and the University of Tennessee's College of Architecture and Design. The project, dubbed the Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy demonstration, or AMIE, has two parts: SOM’s enclosure and a companion vehicle, also 3D printed, which share renewable power to stay off-grid during periods of peak energy demand. Using rapid prototyping, the team was able to bring the project from concept to completion in less than a year.

“The building could be connected to the power grid, or it could come off the grid and use the energy generated from the vehicle [or from] a battery that stores energy from either the vehicle or the building," says Philip Enquist, FAIA, a partner at SOM who covers urban design and planning and led the firm's work on AMIE. And if that wasn't enough, the building can also supply energy to power the vehicle. "It's integrated but very innovative," he says.

Manufactured housing fabricator Clayton Homes assembles the SOM-designed enclosure.
Carlos Jones Manufactured housing fabricator Clayton Homes assembles the SOM-designed enclosure.

The SOM-designed structure explores the use of additive manufacturing to create a modular building envelope that combines structural support, air and moisture barriers, insulation, and cladding. The unit measures 38-feet long, 12-feet wide, and 13-feet tall. It gets its tubular form from the joining of two C-shaped modular panels that are each 3D-printed in carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer and post-tensioned with steel rods to resist lateral and live loads as well as impact. The material was chosen for its strength and stiffness, Enquist says, and the system underwent full-scale load testing to confirm that it would perform.

A high ratio of insulated to glazed surfaces—79 percent and 21 percent, respectively—helps the enclosure conserve energy. Vacuum-sealed atmospherically insulated panels line the inside of the C-shaped modules while an integrated, flexible rooftop photovoltaic system supplements power supplied to the shelter by the vehicle; the PVs will also charge the vehicle’s battery when it’s not in use. The vehicle is fitted with a natural-gas powered generator that will run the shelter’s lighting and compact kitchen, which is fitted with digital display screens, induction cooktops, waste-filtering fixtures, and a small refrigerator. The enclosure is cross-ventilated for natural heating and cooling but contains a small HVAC system, Enquist says.

The modular panels are joined to form rings and the rings lined up to realize the tube-shaped shelter.
Carlos Jones The modular panels are joined to form rings and the rings lined up to realize the tube-shaped shelter.

Though SOM's shelter has the makings of a residence, its makers aren’t ready to call it one. “We didn’t want it judged as a house at the moment, but we think it could be a prototype for micro-housing,” Enquist says, citing student dorms and emergency shelters as applications the team is now exploring for the design and its related research. “Because [the shelters] are 3D printed, they can be [fabricated] anywhere, they don’t have to be printed and shipped, they can be printed locally.”

Enquist couldn't estimate construction costs and says labor for the shelter was donated by the project partners. AMIE comes out of the lab’s five-year Governor’s Chair for Energy and Urbanism research collaboration with SOM and the University of Tennessee’s College of Architecture and Design. AMIE was unveiled in September at ORNL’s Industry Day in Oak Ridge, and was displayed last week at the International Builders' Show in Las Vegas.

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